The Chinese Shar-Pei is square-profiled, of medium size and substance, with a slightly large head for his size. The head has a distinctive wide, padded "hippopotamus" muzzle, and extremely loose, wrinkled skin. Wrinkles may cover the entire body in puppies but are less pronounced in adults, perhaps only covering the head, neck, and withers. The ears are very small, in the shape of an equilateral triangle, and lie flat against the head. Another distinguishing characteristic is the blue-black tongue (shared with the Chow Chow). A scissors bite is strongly preferred. The tail is set high, is wide at the base, and tapers to a point, curling up over or off the side of the back. The coat comes in two types: "horse" coat, which is extremely prickly and offstanding or "brush" coat, which is smoother and longer (but still not to exceed 1 in. at the withers). All solid colors and sables are allowed.
Little is known about the origins of the Chinese Shar-Pei, but pictures on pottery suggest the breed was present even in the Han Dynasty (206 BC). For many years, the Shar-Pei was kept as a general-purpose farm dog in the Chinese countryside, used for hunting, protecting stock, and guarding the home and family. During that time, it was bred for intelligence, strength, and a scowling face. Later, the Shar-Pei was used in dog fighting. The loose skin and extremely prickly coat were developed to aid the dog in fighting, making the Shar-Pei difficult for an opponent to grab and hold on to. During the Communist Revolution, dogs were outlawed in China and many were destroyed. The Shar-Pei almost became extinct. Luckily, the ancient breed was dramatically rescued by a Hong Kong businessman named Matgo Law, who appealed to Americans in 1973 through a dog magazine to save the Shar-Pei. From those few specimens, the Shar-Pei fancy has grown tremendously over the past decades. Now the Shar-Pei is in the Non Sporting Group of the AKC with more than 70,000 dogs registered as foundation stock. When first introduced, these dogs were astronomically expensive. Now they cost about the same as any other pure-bred dog.